Ours has been deemed an age of awkwardness. As The New Yorker points out, there are some six hundred entries related to the term in the Urban Dictionary. It’s such stuff as multiple memes are made of.
While being able to admit our quirks and imperfections so openly across the web is refreshing and real, there’s a sense that it can also justify a shying away from intensity. That our personal spaces are sometimes too forcefully demarcated with screens and devices.
And there’s nothing more awkward than prolonged eye contact. It’s bad enough when it happens accidentally on the tube, but Kovert, the design company founded by Libertine100 member Kate Unsworth that creates smart, unobtrusive tech, have gone and got ten strangers together and forced them to stare into each other’s eyes on camera.
Inspired by Marina Abramovic’s performance piece “The Artist Is Present”, in which Abramovic invited MoMA visitors to gaze into her eyes for as long as they wished, Kovert decided to conduct their own “presence experiment.” “When you grow up you’re told don’t talk to strangers, but that’s how you make new friends,’ one participant says in a rather endearing display of innocence.
It’s stripped down communication that’s more about the intimacy than relaying information. Tech often presupposes a message, but sometimes we just want connection for its own sake. Should we always have to equate contact with content?
So why not break through the discomfort of a bit of eye contact, then. With a consenting partner, that is – best not to try this out on the tube.